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The Bible tells us that the Christian God is a jealous God. To us, that is a negative mark on the ledger of who we think God should be. Several years ago, the famous personality Oprah Winfrey renounced Christianity when a preacher said God was a jealous God. She wanted nothing to do with such a God. She is now, as I understand it (not a fan), a universalist: All religions lead us to God, whoever or whatever he, she, or it is.

However, is God jealously icky? Terrible? Self-centered and possessive, like a spouse who turns violent and murderous because his or her loved one has found another? This is a large topic, too large to deal with in a short article, so let’s look at just one aspect of God’s jealousy for His people in this passage:

“Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods” (Exodus 34:12–16).1

So, let’s ask the question: Why is God jealous for His people?

Here’s the answer: Because He loves them.

Well, one may say, a jealous spouse loves his or her spouse, as well. How is God different?

God is different because—I know this going to seem blindingly obvious—He is God.

Please allow me to explain. Why would a husband go ballistic when his wife has taken up with another man? Several reasons, but let’s consider just one: “I wasn’t good enough for her. I wasn’t meeting her needs. Someone else was able to do that.”

God’s people accused Him of the same inabilities. He wasn’t good enough for them. He wasn’t meeting their needs. They needed someone else. You know Israel’s history. Even after all the strong, miraculous things the Lord had done for them (You know, mundane thing like conquering Egypt and parting the Red Sea), they continued to worship idols; idols they thought would supply their needs when He had not. And, on a foolish, faithless, superficial level, they were right.

God does not immediately hop to when we want something, even when the need is desperate—like water in the wilderness. He’s not a God who straightway gives a hug or a healing or a miracle when we need it. He allows us to suffer, to be in need. He allows us to be tried. In fact, He will try us Himself. Thus, when the people of Israel became convinced that God was not meeting their needs, they foolishly and faithlessly turned to other gods. They offered sacrifices to deaf and mute idols, so they would get what they wanted. Kinda silly when you think about it. False gods were and are constructed of wood, stone, or metal. They can do nothing. They do not love people. They do not meet anyone’s true needs.

God, of course, knows this. He knows that He is the only Being in the universe who can meet human needs (He created us, after all, so He should know) in ways that are good, helpful, and fulfilling—perfectly, eternally, good, helpful, and fulfilling. When we forget this, we lose sight of who He is in truth and thus begin to doubt. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Can you see how faith in and love for Him is required in that promise?

All things. You may have no clue how what is happening could ever be for your good. You may not see it in your lifetime. That’s because you are not a Being who knows the end from the beginning, who knows everything perfectly and can do everything perfectly. Your mistakes, your circumstances are never so enormous that He cannot use them for your good and thus His glory. You just don’t know how He is going to do that.

God is a jealous God because He loves His people with perfect love. Think with me for a moment. Perfect love. No flaws in it. No selfishness in it. No turning away from that love, not even a shadow of turning. God’s love is perfect because He is good—perfectly good. Nothing bad or dark or evil exists in that goodness at all. So, He is jealous because He knows that He and only He can be the God who can, who will, meet our needs. No one, no person, no thing that exists outside of Him can provide for you, fulfill you, and satisfy you as God can. God is jealous because He wants to protect you from all “lovers” who promise that they instead can do this. They cannot. They are not God.

 

1All Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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